Pullback in Syria could prolong war 'two or three decades,' former top diplomat says
A former top State Department official says that President Trump’s green light for a Turkish invasion into northern Syria was a “super-damaging” and “reckless” mistake that could prolong the war there for “probably two or three decades.”
“President Trump said, ‘I want to end all these endless wars in the Middle East,’” said Richard Stengel, who served as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy under President Barack Obama, during an interview for the Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery.”
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“Well, he just extended this war by probably two or three decades. … I mean, it’s a kind of wild open season.”
As chief of public diplomacy between 2013 and 2016, Stengel spent much of his time trying to combat propaganda by the so-called Islamic State and Russia, a subject he writes about at length in his new book, “Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It.”
Whatever gains have been made against the Islamic State, he said, could now be wiped out by an escalation in fighting among the various parties to the conflict. After talking to President Trump, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered attacks against Syrian Kurdish fighters to create a “safe zone” on his country’s border with Syria. The Turks view the Syrian Kurds as having links to the PKK, a militant Kurdish group in Turkey that Erdogan views as terrorists. But they have been allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS and have borne the brunt of the combat, and casualties, for the past five years.
“So the Turks and the Kurds will sort of go to war,” Stengel said. “The Russians will come in on the side of the Turks. The Iranians will continue to back Assad. I mean, to me, this is like this just pushed [the war] down the road.”
The most immediate danger, he said, is that thousands of Islamic State fighters who have been held in makeshift jails by the Kurds will now escape amid the fighting. “Absolutely, these guys can scurry back … and start committing terrorist acts in Europe. I mean, it’s a really dangerous situation, which is why what Trump did is so reckless.”
Another big winner from the Turkish assault is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, Stengel said, has wanted all along to see more Syrian refugees pouring into Europe.
“One of the arguments that I make in the book that I don’t hear picked up enough is that Putin’s indiscriminate bombing in the Syrian war when they went in in 2015 and ’16 was deliberate, to create more Syrian refugees to go through Turkey into Europe.”
The Russians — and their propaganda outlets — played up bogus stories such as one about a Russian girl allegedly raped by a Syrian refugee in Germany. Even though the story turned out to be false, the Internet Research Agency — the troll farm in St. Petersburg that was active in manipulating American social media platforms in the 2016 election — played up the claims, and “the Russian foreign minister talked about it within 15 minutes,” Stengel said.
Putin “weaponized immigration in Germany … and that bled over into the U.S.,” he said.
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